Team Preview: Michael Waltrip Racing

Clint Bowyer

Bowyer, who finished second in the standings last season, met with the media yesterday at Daytona International Speedway. (Photo: Getty Images)

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MotorRacingNetwork.com counts down to the start of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, and the running of the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway, with a series of team previews.  Next up is a look at Michael Waltrip Racing.

Michael Waltrip Racing moved into the upper echelon of Sprint Cup Series teams in 2012.  Led by newcomer Clint Bowyer, MWR's resurgence was one of the biggest stories of last year.

Bowyer finished second in the final standings, 39 points behind Brad Keselowski, after joining the team from Richard Childress Racing and was understandably ecstatic about the effort.

“Building a brand new team from scratch and being able to accomplish everything we have in a short amount of time, we're very proud of that,” Bowyer said, “and proud of my guys - Brian Pattie [crew chief] and everybody on our 5-hour ENERGY Toyota did a great job.”

Bowyer won three races in 2012 and helped put MWR into the post-season Chase for the first time, eventually coming up just one spot short of a title.

“Winning races and making the Chase were our goals,” he said.  “You never know how you're going to roll into the Chase, what momentum you're going to have heading into it and how long you can hold onto that momentum.  Everything came together last year.  Michael Waltrip has been in this sport a while, now, and weathered the storm.  It's neat to see good things finally coming his way."

Martin Truex Jr.Bowyer was joined in the Chase by teammate Martin Truex Jr., who finished 11th in the final standings but not before putting together an outstanding regular season.

He earned seven top fives and a career-high 19 top 10s.  However, the former two-time Nationwide Series champion was disappointed with not running better once the playoffs began.

“We've learned a lot as a team about how to be better prepared if we can be fortunate enough to get in the Chase again this year,” Truex said.  “(We) have a little better idea of what's needed to make sure we don't have those bad races again.”

MWR's third entry didn't have too many bad races last season.  Waltrip, veteran Mark Martin and Brian Vickers all shared time behind the wheel of the No. 55 Toyota ... and all experienced success.

The addition of Martin, who competed in a limited schedule, gave the entire organization a lift Waltrip said was needed.

“We made a lot of changes before the season started in 2012 and one of the smartest ones we made was bringing Mark on board,” Waltrip said.  “In our meetings at the shop, when he starts to speak everyone gets real quiet.  He's like E.F. Hutton.  When Mark talks, everyone listens.”

MWR returns intact for this season with the full-time rides of Bowyer and Truex again complemented by Martin, Vickers and Waltrip sharing the No. 55 Camry.  Martin has signed on for a 24-race slate and is optimistic about the team's fortunes.

“I love my schedule and I love our lineup,” said Martin, whose four poles in 2012 tied Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne for the series lead.  “Brian has a tremendous amount of experience and talent for such a young driver, and you saw at Talladega that Michael is as good as anyone in a restrictor plate race.”

Martin, who doesn’t expect to be with MWR after his two-year contract expires at season's end, believes an additional strength to this year’s effort will come from stability throughout the No. 55 team.

Mark Martin“This is the first time in my entire NASCAR career I’ve started the season with the exact same group of team members from the previous year,” said Martin.  “That shows you what an incredible bunch this is, that we didn’t have any turnover."

Vickers, who will also drive a full-time Nationwide Series schedule for Joe Gibbs Racing, agreed to another partial Cup season with MWR.

“It's amazing that we have a driver of Brian's talent available for our No. 55 Toyota again in 2013," Waltrip said.  "He's a race-winning, Chase-caliber driver and we're happy to have him back.  We gave Brian a difficult assignment in 2012 and not only has he thrived in the role, he's made the entire team better.

“Believe me, I know how hard it is to run a part-time schedule with races spread throughout the season.  I've been most impressed with his attitude toward the crew and his approach to the job, and am confident he can win with our team.”

Vickers is excited about his busy 2013 schedule and thinks the extra time behind the wheel will be a benefit to both organizations.

“Seat time is invaluable,” said Vickers.  “Running a full Nationwide program for JGR will help a lot when I run the '55' car for MWR.  As a driver, you want to race as much as you can and the schedule I have this year is almost a dream come true.”

Overall, the atmosphere around MWR is sky high and there's a belief that improvement over last year’s successful campaign is possible.

“Look at how we ran in the Chase,” said Bowyer, who was also involved in a celebrated feud with Jeff Gordon last season - which boiled over to a fight between their pit crews at Phoenix International Raceway.  “A bad race was sixth place.  We were bummed out.  When you're running like that, it's pretty rare.  We were building a notebook, learning from each other and learning from the mistakes we made the first couple of times around those racetracks.

“That's when you get a sense of what you've got for a race team and understand what you're up against.  It gives me a lot of confidence and a lot of pride knowing what's in store.”

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